The Balcones Poetry Prize for 2011 awarded to Bone Fires by Mark Jarman

Mark Jarman
Mark Jarman

The Balcones Center for Creative Writing at Austin Community College is pleased to announce the 2011 Balcones Poetry Prize. The prize of $1,500 recognizes an outstanding book of poetry published during the year.

Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems by Mark Jarman, published by Sarabande Books, collects poems from his eight previous books spanning 30 years along with a generous selection of new poems. The title poem, recalling the original meaning of “bonfire” as a religious ritual to ensure the return of light from the darkness of winter, points to the essentially spiritual nature of Jarman’s lifelong poetic quest. The judges were impressed by the “clarity and simplicity of his diction, the musicality and cadence of his voice and keenness of perception in which ordinary experience is rendered luminous and the extraordinary, transcendent.” “The language is simple and straightforward, but beautifully rendered and able to show complicated ideas and feelings as if they were tangible things.” He “listens like truth”…and offers poems that are “nothing less than the soul’s labour, it’s singing.”

Jarman has won numerous awards and fellowships, from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim foundation, the Academy of Amercan poets and many others. He is a professor of English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

The poet will visit Austin Community College to read from his work March 27, 2013.

Four finalists were also named:

  • Songs of Unreason, Jim Harrison (Copper Canyon Press)
  • Space, In Chains, Laura Kasischke (Copper Canyon Press)
  • The Politics, Benjamin Paloff (Carnegie Mellon University Press)
  • The World Falls Away, Wanda Coleman (University of Pittsburgh Press)

The judges for the 2011 prize were Paula Mendoza Hanna, an Austin poet and recent MFA graduate from the University of Michigan, Austin poet and photographer David Jewell, and Richard Price, poet and professor of English at Austin Community College.

Former winners:

  • Chase Twichell, Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been, 2010
  • Bill Berkson, Portrait and Dream, 2009
  • Michael McGriff, Dismantling the Hills, 2008
  • Aimee Nezhukumatahil, At the Drive–In Volcano, 2007
  • Lorna Dee Cervantes, Drive, 2006
  • Aaron Anstett, No Accident, 2005
  • Lorenzo Thomas, Dancing on Main Street, 2004
  • John Hogden, Bread Without Sorrow, 2002
  • Carol Potter, Short History of Pets, 2001
  • Dana Levin, In the Surgical Theatre, 2000
  • Arthur Sze, The Red-Shifting Web, 1999
  • Reginald Gibbons, Sparrow: New and Selected Poems, 1997
  • Lucia Perillo, The Body Mutinies, 1996
  • Kathleen Halme, Every Substance Clothed, 1995

The deadline for nominations for the 2012 Balcones Poetry Prize is January 31, 2013.

For more information:
John Herndon, Associate Director
The Balcones Center for Creative Writing
Austin Community College
1212 Rio Grande Street
Austin, Texas 78701

Katherine Karlin wins the 2011 Balcones Fiction Prize

Katherine Karlin wins the 2011 Balcones Fiction Prize for her story collection Send Me Work (published by TriQuarterly).

Karlin’s collection features stories about American women and their work.  Unlike the heroines of domestic fiction, Katherine Karlin’s women face their biggest challenges outside of the house.

Renowned Texas author Jan Reid (Comanche Sundown) served as the book prize’s final judge. “Unlike so many American writers of fiction these days,” he writes, “Katherine Karlin matches lyrical style with a wealth of blue-collar experience and far-ranging imagination — from oboists’ reeds to old circus clowns to hard-earned scars on the arms of welders.  Send Me Work is a superb debut.”

Katherine Karlin has worked at an oil refinery and a print shop; she’s driven a forklift at a shipyard and sewn together dog leashes.  Upon winning the Balcones Fiction Prize, she wrote, “I had a creative writing professor who always asked me, ‘Why don’t your characters ever fall in love?’ I do something else.  I write about work.”

Katherine Karlin
Katherine Karlin

Karlin writes that workplace relationships “can be as complex, confusing and rewarding as the relationships forged in courtship and family.” Karlin is Assistant Professor of English at Kansas State University. In addition to publishing stories in various journals, her work has been anthologized in The Pushcart Prize and New Stories from the South.

The second annual Balcones Fiction Prize attracted over sixty nominations of novels and story collections. ACC creative writing professors chose six finalists for the prize and handed them to Jan Reid for his ultimate decision. The other five Balcones Fiction Prize finalists are:

  • Let the Birds Drink in Peace by Robert Garner McBrearty (Conundrum Press)
  • Mitzvah Man by John J. Clayton (Texas Tech University Press)
  • Quickening by Liza Wieland (Southern Methodist University Press)
  • The Fitting by Joseph Zaitchik (Florida Academic Press)
  • Green Gospel by L.C. Fiore (Livingston Press)

The deadline for the 2012 Balcones Fiction Prize is January 31, 2013. For more information, see:

Balcones Winners to visit ACC on March 21, 2012


Chase Twichell reads from Horses Where the Answers Should Have Been: New and Selected Poems–Winner of the 2010 Balcones Poetry Prize. Linh Dinh reads from his novel Love Like Hate–Winner of the 2010 Balcones Fiction Prize. The readings begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Gallery Theater of Rio Grande Campus. For more information, please contact Charlotte Gullick, 223-3226,


I’m taking a Beginner’s Poetry class this semester with the delightful Prof. Hoppe. Want to read my favorite assignment I’ve turned in so far?

Roo is a Ghost

for Andrew Runciman (1986-2011)

If I opened my front door to a brown paper package
that once unwrapped, revealed a time machine
I would go back to that time we hung a hammock in the trees
and all the forty tries it took to hold us both

And then I would sneak in to the broom closet
of our first apartment where I would watch us pick up our bicycles
and head down the stairs toward adventure
our stomachs filled with your dripping tofu burritos

I would watch us on the first night I met you,
stumbling drunk through the streets of Small Town
holding hands because we were cold and I already loved you
and I would smile as we disappeared in to your house for the night

I would watch myself dance in the kitchen
swirling and singing as I made your birthday cake
carefully placing one, two, twenty four candles
I would choke back tears watching you blow out your last wish

And I would know that all these years,
all of the ghosts in the corners
and the shadows and the bumps in the night
were me all along

With a knowledge that pure
and no more fear in my bones,
I would pedal my bike past you on that dark road
And throw myself in front of that car to save your life.

I feel so improved from the class already. Having to look at your poetry from an academic perspective makes you develop a better understanding of the poem you’re working on. Yesterday we talked about ways to “dig deeper,” and make our poems multi-dimensional, or layered. I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in writing poetry. It’s a good place to develop the basics without which good poems cannot be written.

A Room of One’s Own

Today at work, while reading the latest issue of The Onion and eating my salmon tartines from Blue Dahlia, I came across one of my favorite columnists.  The optimistic, kindhearted but endlessly dorky Jean Teasdale (She also calls herself a frustrated psychic. She could be my spirit animal.) wrote about her success at an open mic.  Success in this case is defined as completion.  Her next move? Improv.  As I read her earnest synopsis of her adventures in the latest installment of “A Room of Jean’s Own”, the synchronicity of Jean’s trajectory and mine was not lost on me.

At the start of this year, I moved out of an emotionally draining living situation into a place of my own, situated near my bookseller and thrift store of choice (Jean also loves a bargain).  A friend related advice given to her: every woman should live by herself at least once.  I’ve taken this to heart.  My schedule keeps my pretty busy, but my time spent alone is sacred.  I grew up in a big, noisy family and, in adult life, have been limited by hourly wage and have turned to roommate situations to eek out what level of independence one can attain below the poverty line.  I would never trade my time and experiences with past roomies, but I am much better company!

So what do I do?  I sing a lot more, that’s for sure.  I make lists.  I cook dinner.  I tend to my plants.  I write.  I practice piano. I’ve opted not to get internet at my home since Epoch is just around the corner and there can be no sanctuary with Facebook or internet porn.  I haven’t had a television in years. Life is easy.

The play debuted smoothly at Hyde Park Theater last night.  I did a little acting which was an exciting and unusual move for me.  People laughed at the jokes I’d written!  The younger brother of a friend who helped with the play wants to perform it at his high school in Seattle, so there’s a feather in my cap.  And, to quote Jean,  “I’m proud that I left my comfort zone (aka my living-room couch!) and did something I’d wanted to try for years. But the question remained: What would I do for a follow-up?”

What indeed? The last show of the night was an improv piece loosely structured around Romeo & Juliet.  It featured Handbomb, a group from The New Movement Theater.  I recognized some of the actors from shows I’d seen in their space on the east side.  Their work was characteristically funny.  I’ve been too shy to get involved, but getting out on a limb last night makes me feel like a Level 1 improv class may be just the right fit for me.

So, while Jean seeks an improv group with whom to premeditate skits about picking chocolate kisses off candy cane trees, I will expand my horizons at The New Movement!  Watch this space!



Experiencing the E-Reader

On Christmas Eve, after eating a delicious dinner with my family, we gathered in the living room to pass around the goodies stashed under the tree. I was completely surprised, and quite thrilled, to unwrap a Kindle touch. I had casually mentioned to my mother that Amazon’s e-reader was something I was undecided on, but was interested in using, and in true mom fashion, she delivered. After pulling it from it’s simple brown paper packaging and following the quick installation process, I logged in to my Amazon account and began downloading some of the free domain books.

This is probably the best feature of the kindle: books that are public domain are free to download.

After downloading a few books, I put the Kindle back in it’s packaging, in to my bag, and drove the three days to Canada leaving the thing untouched. On the way home I finished a book I was reading, and between flights purchased a new paperback. It wasn’t until I had been home for a week that I even picked the thing up.

I should here state that I am a devout fan of books. I love the way the pages feel, the way books smell, I love highlighting sentences and jotting notes in the margins. And because of this, when I pressed the power button to turn my Kindle on for the second time, I did so with distaste painting my face.

I’ve been using my Kindle for a few weeks now, have gotten used to it’s interface, and must say that I am enjoying it. I downloaded a required reading Philosophy book to my Kindle and have found it incredibly useful.  If I could have all of my textbooks on my Kindle, there would be no question about it’s usefulness, and certainly, that option is available depending on your courses. Instead of carrying two or three books in my tote bag at all times, I have a very small and lightweight replacement that is much easier to transport on my bicycle.

The Kindle has many features that keep it from feeling like another piece of technology to deal with. Most importantly, the battery life is extremely sufficient. I can use my Kindle for a couple of days before needing to recharge it. Secondly, the highlight feature which allows you to highlight passages and make notes on what you’re reading is nice.

There is a definite difference in the two options, and I sincerely doubt I will ever forego book entirely, but overall the Kindle is a great alternative to it’s bulky paper sister.

Do any of you have an e-reader? What do you like or dislike about it? Would you prefer the IPad or Nook? Let me know in the comments.


Frontera Fest

Greetings!  It’s been a while since I’ve visited, but that’s because I’ve been hard at work!  Only some semblance of that statement is true because while I have been toiling, I have also been creatively stalled.

I’m participating in Frontera Fest this year with a play called “SIR!” that I wrote.  It’s actually based somewhat on something I shared here last year, my short story entitled “First National Trust.”  Performance night is Thursday at Hyde Park Theater!

So what have I learned through this process?  One, I want to write and not produce.  Sound cues, light cues, props, costumes, casting…no thank you.  Two, I am better than I think I am.  I procrastinated so much on my project because I was afraid to reread my draft.  And when I finally did (after much Facebook-stalling, Pinterest-stalling, downtown-Eastside-stalling, I-better-clean-my-whole-house-right-now-stalling) I found that I really liked it.  It makes me laugh, which is a good thing, since I was trying to be funny.

Pulling it all together has been a somewhat arduous task, but I’m optimistic about its rewards.  The real fun is in the process.

My victories with the play have given me courage to go back and review my portfolio, and mine it for gems to send off to different writing programs I’m interested in.  And you know what?  I like the stories there, too.



Balcones Fiction Prize: Calling all Publishers

The Balcones Fiction Prize has thus far received very few books from the top 5 largest publishers – actually zero, I think. I do hope we receive some books from them (Random House, etc.). But if we don’t, it means this is a great opportunity for lesser-known writers to compete for a national book award. Please have your nomination postmarked by January 31.

— Irwin Tang, Professor, Creative Writing

Write In Tonight!

WriteInJan17“A what?,” You’re asking. A Write In is a block of time devoted to writing. A few or several people spend an hour or three drinking coffee in front of their laptops or hovering over their notebooks.

“But I can do that at home,” you might be thinking. Well so could I, but there’s a magical phenomenon that occurs when you’re surrounded by other writers: you write. As you watch everyone click at their keys or scribble across paper you feel like a complete and total slacker, and you write.

In addition to the magic of feeling like everyone is a mile ahead of you, the simple act of setting aside time to write is more often than not quite productive. We contributers to the Creative Writing Blog want to offer you an excuse to make that time.

As our group grows we will offer peer review and share information on local events.

If you cannot make it tonight, don’t worry. Write In’s will be occurring every other Thursday. Look out for flyers around campus, or check back here for locations, times and dates.

See you there!